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An Open Letter to the Defence Secretary

Soldiers from Balaklava Company, of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, parading at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh for the Arrival of HM The Queen on 2 July 2018. Photo from @The_SCOTS Twitter account.

Dear Mr Wallace

An Open Letter to the Secretary of State for Defence Mr Ben Wallace MP

published on A Force For Good's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages on Monday 7 June 2021

On Saturday 5 June 2021, the news broke that the sporrans for the Royal Regiment of Scotland were likely to be imported, instead of being purchased from a traditional artisan in Scotland. An article in The Times (Mike Wade, "Sporran maker given marching orders", 5-6-21) tells us:

"Cost cutting by the Ministry of Defence means military sporrans are to be imported, almost certainly from Pakistan, leaving Scottish manufacturers on the brink of ruin, just a week after sporran-making was placed on the red list of endangered crafts."

It has come as a surprise to many that the MoD does not prioritise British companies for such purchases.

This is especially surprising now that we have left the EU. Under EU laws, government-funded projects had to be opened to worldwide competition. Outside the EU, we are free to invite tenders from British companies only, thereby keeping the money from government spending within the UK.

We suggest that the MoD should have a default position to procure from British manufacturers only. We would expect this especially to be the case with traditional items of clothing which are culturally significant and related to local identity.

The chairman of the Scottish Tartans Authority said, after speaking to the MoD:

"They weren't really interested in the heritage side, even then, because there are lots of purchasing rules which they seem to have to follow."

The article also quotes a supplier:

"You really are down at bottom prices," one supplier to the armed forces said. "A cheaper bid can always come from abroad. The only way to change that is a government intervention, a bit like the US does, with the Berry amendment. It stipulates that you have to source from the States."

This contract could have helped to boost a small traditional craft and preserve endangered skills, esteem the British Army in Scotland, and demonstrate – in a colourful and quirky way – the on-going value of the Union.

Instead it has ended up as an incredible "own goal". It has demonstrated that there is precious little "joined up thinking" when it comes to the Government's desire to support the Union.

We suggest that the MoD needs a change in culture. Instead of obsessing with the economics of the matter, the primary consideration should be political: "Will this help or hurt the Union of the United Kingdom?"

That's not a difficult question. The British Government needs to stop getting the easy things so drastically wrong.

Yours sincerely

Alistair McConnachie

Secretary and Director, on behalf of the Directors of A Force For Good

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